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Decision No. 869

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October 28 1999
In Re: Request from United Methodist Communications for a Declaratory Decision on Whether Par. 721 of the 1996 Discipline Applies to the Council of Bishops and Official Organizations of Annual Conferences.

Digest of Case

Chapter Five of 1996 Discipline deals with Administrative Order, which defines the "agencies" related to The United Methodist Church’s vision, mission, and ministry. Par. 721 of the 1996 Discipline refers to "all meetings of councils, boards, agencies, commissions, and committees of the Church, including subunit meetings and teleconferences." The description of such "agencies" does not include the Council of Bishops, which is defined in Chapter Three under The Nature of Superintendency. The General Conference in adopting Par. 721 did not include the Council of Bishops as an "agency" clearly defined in Par. 701.1(a). This means that all such meetings of "agencies" as defined are open sessions, except as prescribed in Par. 721 for closed sessions.

Statement of Facts

United Methodist Communications made a request for a declaratory decision on the application of Par. 721 of the 1996 Discipline to the Council of Bishops and official organizations of annual conferences. For "closed sessions" the type, scope, limitations and reporting of results are prescribed in Par. 721, which states: Closed Session—In the spirit of openness and accountability, all meetings of councils, boards, agencies, commissions, and committees of the Church, including subunit meetings and teleconferences, shall be open. Portions of a meeting may be closed for consideration of specific subjects if such a closed session is authorized by an affirmative public vote with at least three fourths of the voting members present. The vote shall be taken in public session and recorded in the minutes. Documents distributed in open meetings shall be considered public. Great restraint should be used in closing meetings; closed sessions should be used as seldom as possible. Subjects that may be considered in closed session are limited to real estate matters; negotiations, when general knowledge could be harmful to the negotiation process; personnel matters; issues related to the accreditation or approval of institutions; discussions relating to litigation or collective bargaining; deployment of security personnel or devices; negotiations involving confidential third-party information; and deliberations of the Judicial Council. A report on the results of a closed session shall be made immediately upon its conclusion or as soon thereafter as is practicable. An oral hearing was held in Evanston, Illinois, on October 28, 1999. Alvin J. Horton and Lonnie D. Brooks represented United Methodist Communications, and Bishop Jack Tuell and Bishop Robert C. Morgan represented the Council of Bishops. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2616 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale Chapter Five of the 1996 Discipline deals with Administrative Order, which defines the agencies related to The United Methodist Church’s vision, mission, and ministry. Par. 721 of the Discipline refers to "all meetings of councils, boards, agencies, commissions, and committees of the Church, including subunit meetings and teleconferences." The description of such agencies does not include the Council of Bishops, which is defined in Chapter Three under The Nature of Superintendency. The General Conference in adopting Par. 721 did not include The Council of Bishops as an "agency" clearly defined in Par. 701.1(a) This means that all such meetings of "agencies" as defined are open sessions, except as prescribed in Par. 721 for closed sessions. Par. 721 does define the subject matter of such closed sessions: . . . Subjects that may be considered in closed session are limited to real estate matters; negotiations, when general knowledge could be harmful to the negotiation process; personnel matters; issues related to the accreditation or approval of institutions; discussions relating to litigation or collective bargaining; deployment of security personnel or devices; negotiations involving confidential third-party information; and deliberations of the Judicial Council. Paragraph 701.2 further defines "councils" as "units...constituted by the General Conference." The Council of Bishops is not constituted by the General Conference. Par. 701.1(a) specifically includes agencies and organizations at all levels of the Church. Paragraph 703 states that "General Councils are amenable and accountable to the General Conference and report to it. That same paragraph specifically notes that "The Council of Bishops and Judicial Council are authorized by the Constitution and are not created by the General Conference." All of the paragraphs immediately before and immediately following Par. 721 relate to units created by the General Conference. That arrangement, in conjunction with the note in Par. 703, leads to the logical conclusion that Par. 721 is intended to apply to units created by the General Conference, notwithstanding the reference to "deliberations of the Judicial Council." Further, Par. 721 states that a reporting of the results shall be made at the conclusion of a meeting or as soon as practicable, but does not allow for no reporting of the results. A reporting of the results of a meeting shall not be construed to mean any form of a verbatim of the meeting, so as to violate matters of confidentiality, accreditation, negotiation, security, personnel matters, or Judicial Council deliberations. In Decision 751 the Judicial Council specifically cited the confidentiality requirement related to an annual conference dealing with a complaint in the judicial process, which states: Once a signed grievance is filed, both it and all related documents become the property of the Annual Conference. The entire process must be handled in conformity with Pars. 706 and 2626.3(e) of the 1992 Discipline which require confidentiality. Such complaints are considered in closed or executive sessions. Only the respective members as prescribed by the Discipline are present in the executive or closed session. The results of executive sessions are reported in the annual conference journal, but not the details or deliberations.

Decision

Chapter Five of 1996 Discipline deals with Administrative Order, which defines the "agencies" related to The United Methodist Church’s vision, mission, and ministry. Par. 721 of the 1996 Discipline refers to "all meetings of councils, boards, agencies, commissions, and committees of the Church, including subunit meetings and teleconferences." The description of such "agencies" does not include the Council of Bishops, which is defined in Chapter Three under The Nature of Superintendency. The General Conference in adopting Par. 721 did not include the Council of Bishops as an "agency" clearly defined in Par. 701.1(a). This means that all such meetings of "agencies" as defined are open sessions, except as prescribed in Par. 721 for closed sessions.

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